A guide to the plethora of luxury watches that switch time zones as often as you do

by Phil Baker, a product development consultant, the author of “From Concept to Consumer,” and author of a weekly consumer technology column for The San Diego Transcript. Phil holds 30 patents and is an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year.

The Rolex GMT II

The Rolex GMT Master II

With so many of us connecting to others across the globe and traveling to distant countries, many fine watch companies now offer models that include second time complication. How they display the 2nd time varies widely, with some methods best for those that travel, while others are best for those calling another zone. Here’s a review to help you make the best choice.

Some use a 24 hour scale on the dial or bezel and a 24 hour hand to display the second time. The most famous model is the Rolex GMT II. It’s advantage is that it’s easy to see the 2nd time zone at a glance and there’s no confusion between night and day. Those with a movable bezel, such as the Rolex, allow you to quickly change zones or view a third time zone.

Another design adds a second hour-hand to show the second time zone. When you don’t need it, the hand hides behind the primary hour-hand. This approach is easier to tell time at a glance than the 24 hour dial, but be sure there’s an am/pm indicator for that 2nd zone so you know whether it’s night or day. My favorite is the Jaeger-LeCoultre Squadra Home Time. The new Panerai 1950 3 Day GMT has a 2nd hour hand, but no am/pm indicator…a serious oversight, in my jet-lagged opinion.

The Reverso Squadra Hometime

The Reverso Squadra Hometime

Some watches use a second smaller dial with an hour and minute hand to display the 2nd time zone. These include the gorgeous Lange & Sohne Lange 1 Time Zone and the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master World Geographique. Some, including these two models, include a list of cities that change the second dial’s time as you select the city. The Girard Perregaux WW.TC and Patek Worldtimer each display the world’s cities around the perimeter of the dial, with no 2nd dial.

*Note that some of the times will be off by an hour during the summer when some cities are on daylight savings time and others are not.

Another approach is displaying the second time in a second window using a digital hour display. This provides a clean separation from the main hands. One disadvantage is that the dial can be obscured by the watch hands, and it’s a little slower to read a digital scale. Examples include the IWC Spitfire UTC, the Ulysse Nardin GMT, and the striking JeanRichard 2TimeZone.

The IWC Spitfire UTC

The IWC Spitfire UTC

While these watches cost several thousand dollars or more, they’re often available at a steal. The Swiss watch industry had a horrible year in 2009, with shipments to the U.S. falling by half…meaning discounts of 25-35% are often available on all but the Panerai and Rolex brands.

What do I recommend? I’ve been using a Rolex GMT II for many years, but also have a few of the other models. While Rolex is rarely discounted, it’s also one of the best buys, since it holds its value so well and can be easily serviced. I also love the Lange & Sohne, but it’s far beyond my budget. The IWC UTC is another popular classic that’s reasonably priced, while Jaeger-LeCoultre offers the widest variety of world time and two zone watches, all fairly priced. And, of course, timeless.